Scott McLaughlin made two pit stops and used that ability to run hard for 45 laps to capture Saturday’s Honda Grand Prix IndyCar Challenge iRacing event at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.
Starting eighth in his Team Penske Chevrolet, McLaughlin parlayed a strategic call from Jonathan Diuguid and his late-race pace to snatch the lead with six laps to go and hold off teammate Will Power by a few car lengths to win the second stop in IndyCar’s six-race virtual reality series.
The two-time Australian Supercars champion from New Zealand pitted prior to the mandatory caution on Lap 15 and then assumed the lead on Lap 27 when all the front-runners had to stop. He pulled out to a 17-second advantage before making his second stop on Lap 31, coming back on track in second place behind Scott Speed began carving into an 8-second deficit.
Speed, subbing for Marco Andretti, was saving fuel and finally had to relinquish the top spot on Lap 39 as McLaughlin and Power blasted by and chased each other to the checkered flag.
“That was a great call by Jonathan,” said McLaughlin, who tested earlier this season for Roger Penske and will be making his official IndyCar debut sometime in 2020. “Last week I was trying to figure out my own mileage and strategy; it was much easier this week with his help. Getting me out in clear air was the difference and I could really run hard.
“Lapped cars were tough, though, so that was a key to this race.”
The 26-year-old Kiwi is a longtime sim racer and credits it for helping him in the real world.
“I started iRacing 10 years ago and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” said McLaughlin, who got up at 2 a.m. in Brisbane, Australia, to get ready for practice and qualifying in the virtual land of Alabama. “It’s been an awesome tool for me, keeps me sharp between races, and I love it.”
Power, who won Friday night’s oval iRace at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, started second and hounded polesitter Sage Karam before coming up just shy of overtaking McLaughlin.
Speed managed to salvage third place while Alex Palou was fourth and Simon Pagenaud fifth.
Karam, the winner of last week’s iRacing event at Watkins Glen, led the first 25 laps but dropped back to 12th in heavy traffic before getting upside down after tangling with Tony Kanaan.
But the drive of the day came from Robert Wickens. Starting last after crashing in qualifying, the Canadian charged from 29th to finish eighth in his first virtual appearance and initial competition since being seriously injured at Pocono in 2018.